Feature ArticleDeploying Gulp Oil Skimmers In the Gulf of Mexico
By Lance DeHart
Gulp Oil Skimmers LLC
Morgan City, Louisiana
In the wake of the tragic Macondo well explosion, which ultimately led to the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, LAD Services LLC (Morgan City, Louisiana), along with many coastal Louisiana residents, were immediately inundated with concerns, especially when it became apparent that there was no way to effectively shut in the well and stop the flow of oil. Drawing on past experience in barge construction and oil spill response, the company began development of a scale version of what would be later named by the late Jim Black of BP plc (London, England) as the 'Big Gulp.'
Development of the Gulp Skimmers
After successful testing in May 2010 of a scale model of the Big Gulp in a controlled environment, LAD Services and Cashman Equipment Corp. (Boston, Massachusetts) decided to manufacture one without any assurance of its use. A Cashman Equipment's barge was retrofitted with the LAD Services' skimmer to produce the first Gulp. The patent-pending Gulp was then presented to BP to potentially aid in recovering the spilled oil.
BP subjected the skimmer to its standard testing protocol, which had to be successfully completed prior to gaining a contract and becoming a vendor in the response effort. Additionally, the vessels had to meet all U.S. Coast Guard requirements. Performance metrics were set by BP, which stated the vessel must recover 42,000 gallons of material daily, with a minimum oil-to-water ratio of 50 percent.
During the first day of testing, the Gulp recovered more than 200,000 gallons of material, which was verified by the U.S. Coast Guard to consist of 98 percent oil. As a result of the performance displayed during the initial test, BP commissioned the immediate construction of seven more Gulps to assist in the response effort.
The Big Gulp. The Big Gulps were the first model created. With a skimmer opening of 92 feet wide, the Big Gulp measures 100 by 300 feet and is designed to handle open-ocean environments. The vessel is capable of withstanding high sea states and can actively skim in conditions up to 6 feet. With a pumping rate of 14,000 gallons per minute and 500,000-gallon onboard storage capacity, the Big Gulp is capable of continuous deployment, even in adverse weather conditions that would recall smaller-class vessels back to port. The four Big Gulps deployed during the BP response were centralized to working the vicinity of the blowout.
The Little Gulp. Measuring 54 by 180 feet with a skimmer opening of 50 feet, the Little Gulps are sized for nearshore operations, namely the shallow coastlines and bay areas, because of their shallow draft and the ability to utilize shallow draft tugs.
During the Deepwater Horizon response effort, four Little Gulps were stationed along the Louisiana coastline for rapid deployment and commanded by the U.S. Coast Guard's National Strike Force team. The units have a pumping rate of 6,200 gallons per minute, with a 150,000-gallon onboard storage capacity.
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Lance DeHart is the business development manager for Gulp Oil Skimmers LLC. He received a bachelor's in geology from the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He has been working in the oil and gas exploration sector for his entire professional career of roughly 20 years.